Felix José Bonilla y Norat (1912-1992)
A prolific and innovative painter, Felix José Bonilla y Norat was born in Cayey, Puerto Rico on October 28, 1912. A naturally gifted artist, his earliest works of art were created when he was just eight years old. In 1931, following his graduation from the Instituto Politecnico de San German in Puerto Rico, he accepted a scholarship to study at the Child Walker Fine Arts School in Boston, Massachusetts. He received further scholarships for training at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, as well as the Academy of Fine Arts and the San Marcos Academy of Fine Arts, both in Florence, Italy.
Bonilla y Norat enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 1942 and served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps. While not much is known about his service with the MFAA as a whole, the Signal Corps were responsible for supplying imagery of the war to news outlets in the United States. Their efforts to document the horrors of World War II also included photographing newly-liberated Nazi concentration camps. Such evidence of the Nazi atrocities was later used by the U.S. Army and the Allied Military Government during interrogations of German prisoners of war and at the war crime trials of prominent Nazi officials.
Following his service in Europe, Bonilla y Norat returned to Puerto Rico. For almost twenty years, he lectured on art as a professor at the University of Puerto Rico. His students comprised the next generation of Puerto Rican artists, including Rafael Colon Morales, Carmelo Fontanez, Miran Rodriquez, Raul Zayas, and Daniel Lind Ramos. In addition to his lectures, he was also an art critic for the San Juan Star from 1976 to 1987 and served as a founding member of the Association Pro-School of Plastic Arts.
Bonilla y Norat’s unique artistic style was constantly in flux. While his earlier works during the 1950s and 1960s reveal the influence of Surrealism in their dense symbolism and violent poses, later portraits and landscapes feature a more relaxed, expressionistic environment. He experimented at times with photographic emulsion used in serigraphy, unconventional lighting techniques, political subjects, and interdimensional perspective.
Felix Bonilla y Norat died in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 17, 1992. During his lifetime, he created nearly seven hundred works of art.